Healthy indulgence dessert
Fruit, vegetables, nuts and chocolate speak for themselves in modern, better-for-you desserts.

KANSAS CITY – Although America has long been a grab-and-go nation and loves its “available anytime” portable snacks and desserts — donuts, brownies, cookies, Danish, milkshakes and smoothies — they’re not replacing the traditional concept of a sit down, end of the meal dessert.

Such craveable snacks and meal replacements aren’t actually impacting Americans desire for the “real thing," according to reports, including Technomic’s 2017 Dessert Consumer Trend Report published last fall. In fact, Technomic reports that “18- to 34-year olds are increasingly likely to visit specific restaurants for a meal because of a dessert they offer.”

As consumers continue to seek menu options they may feel good about, chefs are giving desserts a makeover by experimenting with a range of nontraditional ingredients. Less sugar, more spice, hearty grains and even naturally sweet vegetables like beets are appearing in today’s sweet treats. The market research company Mintel reports that vegetables, in particular, are taking center stage internationally in sweet categories, often replacing fruit due to concern over sugar content.

“Vegetable cake recipes in the Western world have long been seen in the domain of cake blogs and celebrity chef websites, but have had limited exposure in packaged retail offerings to date. However, this is likely to change in coming years,” said Chris Brockman, research manager, food and drink, EMEA region, Mintel, in a report about sweet bakery.

Meanwhile, there’s a movement under way in the U.S. to create satisfying, healthy desserts with a focus on three categories: fruit, nuts and dark chocolate. Walter Willett, M.D., professor of epidemiology and nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, spearheaded the Three Pleasures Initiative in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America (C.I.A.). The strategy was introduced in 2016 at the C.I.A.’s Menus of Change Conference.

“For the C.I.A., it’s a ‘strategy’ within the Menus of Change umbrella; for Harvard, it’s a public health initiative,” said Sophie Egan, MPH, director of health and sustainability leadership, and editorial director for the Strategic Initiatives Group based in Copia, Calif., at the C.I.A.’s new downtown Napa headquarters for consumer programs.